In 1985 we moved our little family to the East Coast so I could pursue my dream of being a marriage and family counselor. I was 27 years old. Married with two little girls in tow. Up until then I had been working full time in construction with my dad and uncle. I came to the realization that if I didn’t at least give it a whirl I would always wonder.
Pictures of our girls in the back seat of the Dodge Colt pulling a U-haul when we moved to New Jersey.
We ended up living in Northern New Jersey 5 years before deciding to return to Iowa. The weekend before we were to return , the local church that had taken us under their wing for five years, threw us a farewell party. We’d become family in the truest sense of the word. As the program wrapped up, one of my friends, John Reilly, asked me to come up front, to present us with a going away present from the church. (Keep in mind, on a good Sunday, there were maybe 80 in attendance). John whispered something about not loosing the envelope! “There’s something in there to help you get resettled.” Later when we got to the car, I opened the card and found a check for four thousand dollars.
Blew me out of the water.
Over the next week, while in the midst of packing, I jotted off several thank you notes, not thinking much about the act at the time.
It was the right thing to do.
I was reminded of that check this past Sunday night as I was reading a short entry from the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.
It was titled The Lost Art Of Thank You Notes:
Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other. And despite my love of efficiency, I think that thank-you notes are best done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.
Job interviewers and admissions officers see lots of applicants. They read tons of resumes from “A” students with many accomplishments. But they do not see many handwritten thank-you notes.
If you are a B+ student, your handwritten thank-you note will raise you at least a half-grade in the eyes of the future boss or admissions officer. You will become an “A” to them. and because handwritten notes have gotten so rare, they will remember you.
When I’d give this advice to my students, it was not to make them into calculating schemers, although I know some embraced it on those terms. My advice was more about helping them recognize that there are respectful, considerate things that can be done in life that will be appreciated by the recipient, and that only good things can result.
For instance, there was a young lady who applied to get into the E.T.C. ad we were about to turn her down. She had big dreams; she wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. Her grades, her exams and her portfolio were good, but not quite good enough, given how selective the ETC can afford to be. Before we put her into the “no” pile, I decided to page through her file one more time. As I did, I noticed a handwritten thank-you note had been slipped between the other pages.
The note hadn’t been sent to me, my co-director Don Marinelli, or any other faculty member. Instead, she had mailed it to a non-faculty support staffer who had helped her with arrangements when she came to visit. This staff member held no sway over her application, so this was not a suck-up note. It was just a few words of thanks to someone who, unbeknownst to her, happened to toss her note into her application folder. Weeks later I came upon it.
Having unexpectedly caught her thanking someone just because it was the nice thing to do, I paused to reflect on this. She had written her note by hand. I liked that. “This tells me more, than anything else in her file,” I said to Don. I read through her material again, I thought about her. Impressed by her note, I decided she was worth taking a chance on, and Don agreed.
She came to the ETC, got her masters degree, and is now a Disney Imagineer.
I’ve told her this story, and now she tells it to others.
Despite all that is not going on in my life and with my medical care, I still try to handwrite notes when it is important to do so. It’s just the nice thing to do. And you never know what magic might happen after it arrives in someone’s mailbox.
Those 5 years we lived out East were life changing. It really was a watershed time in my life. I am toying around with writing a series on that season of our life. The good and the not so good. If I end up doing so, this will be the first installment. 🙂 DM